The canteen operated by Trinity Services Group at my prison posted a sign announcing the items that they didn’t have. They blamed the unavailability of refried beans for much of the past six months on “a delay in production.” They didn’t have cream cheese and mayo because of egg and milk shortages.
I could understand those situations, but what I could not understand was the unavailability of five items that are essential for us.
Postage stamps: We used to be able to receive stamps in the mail from our friends and family, but last May, Florida stopped allowing us to receive physical mail. Instead, all mail had to go through a third-party service that scanned the mail and made them available to us on our tablets. This meant that the only way for us to purchase stamps was through the canteen if we didn’t want to violate the rules against bartering by borrowing or buying a stamp from another resident.
How are we to send out legal mail? How can stamps not be available even during the holiday season when residents want to send greetings to family and friends?
Certain items should never be scarce. I also have not heard any news of the U.S. Postal Service experiencing supply chain delays in the production of stamps.
Meanwhile, Securus Technologies, the company that provides our communications system, continues to be able to allow us to send digital messages for 39 cents per email. No production delays here.
Affordable AA batteries: On November 4, 2022, all tablets were confiscated at Everglades Correctional Institution, where I reside. We were told that a software update needed to be made to prevent users from “jailbreaking” their devices to access the internet and make calls against the rules. We were supposed to receive replacements within 7 to 10 days, but as of the end of January 2023, we are still waiting.
Our tablets not only let us check our email, they function as our photo albums, calendars, music players and radios. Without them, we have been forced to revert back to using radios or MP3 players previously purchased from Trinity. All of them are powered by disposable batteries.
The increased demand for batteries should have come as no surprise when tablets were removed at ECI since many other Florida institutions have undergone this process. Trinity could have used a bit of foresight to stock an adequate supply of batteries.
It’s notable that the first batteries to become unavailable were the more affordable two-pack Ion AA batteries, which sell for $1.04 per package. They had a bigger supply of the higher priced Energizer two-pack, which sold for $3.30, until demand overtook supply.
The absence of both tablets and batteries has meant no music and no photo album. It also means no audio when watching TV because most of them require an FM transmitter and a battery-operated radio as the listening device.
November and December were very stressful months for us already. Then waves of sickness arrived.
Toilet paper: The Florida Department of Corrections provides a ration of one toilet paper roll per week, but it is woefully inadequate in the best of times. All five canteens in the prison have repeatedly run out of toilet paper, which costs $1.05 per roll. Unavailability of toilet paper is unconscionable.
Halls cough drops and Tylenol caplets: We are in the midst of the cold and flu season. The triple threat of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu has been in the news for months. Many are experiencing persistent coughs, sneezing and headaches. If you’re not sick now, you have been or you will be. The cough drops, which cost $1.79 for nine pieces, and the Tylenol, which cost $1 for two caplets, are necessities this time of year.
Other pain relievers like ibuprofen and non-aspirin can sometimes be procured at the officers’ station, but the supply is limited and the willingness to distribute them is often absent.
The five items highlighted each meet an important and often urgent need, but no alternative products have been made available and no explanation has been provided. I would like to know why.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.